Trial studies benefits of virtual classes on pain management techniques for cancer patients

August 10, 2022
illustration of various parts of the human body glowing red to signify pain
Pain is one of the most common symptoms that cancer patients deal with. Illustration by Adobe Stock

A national trial is investigating whether cancer patients can benefit from online training sessions on how to deal with pain.

“We know that pain is one of the most common symptoms that cancer survivors experience, both as a result of the cancer and then potentially following treatment,” said Sarah Tucker Price, M.D., Ph.D.

“We have medication and nonmedication ways that we can try to help address that pain. I think one of the things that's underutilized is some of these nonpharmacologic options to help patients with their pain management. But one of the limitations on some of the nonpharmacologic options is that they’re time intensive and resource intensive,” she explained.

Price is a family medicine physician who focuses on patients at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. She’s also the site lead for the Internet-based Program to Help Cancer Survivors Manage Pain (IMPACTS) trial, which is occurring at multiple sites across the U.S. under the auspices of the National Cancer Institute’s Community Oncology Research Program, or NCORP.

Hollings is an NCORP-MU site – a member of the program designated as serving minority underserved (MU) populations – and shares with other NCORP-MU members the goal of bringing cancer clinical trials to patients in their own communities with the goal of reducing disparities.

This virtual pain management trial is an example of bringing options to patients, instead of expecting patients to come to providers.

“The goal is ultimately to make it more accessible,” Price explained.

There’s a shortage of providers who can provide this type of training, and providers’ schedules don’t necessarily align with patients’ schedules. In the trial, an online version can be pulled up at the patient’s convenience. The trial will test whether the online version is effective at reducing the severity of pain and how much pain interferes with daily activities like walking, sleep, mood and general enjoyment of life.

Patients who are randomized to the online program will be responsible for watching eight 45-minute learning modules over the course of 10 weeks. The modules will cover things like relaxation techniques and various coping strategies.

Patients can participate in the trial if they’re taking pain medication, but they need to have been on their particular regimens for a minimum of two weeks. They also must have finished their treatment regimens and their cancers must be considered stable.

“One of the benefits of this is it’s a potential opportunity to improve pain in our cancer survivors, with limited side effects because it’s a nonmedication option. And by doing it through internet modules, it’s more convenient, more accessible to patients but still delivering much of the content that has previously been shown to be beneficial,” Price said.

Offering this instruction will hopefully help with pain reduction, which will in turn improve patients’ quality of life and free them to go about their daily activities, she said.

Regardless of whether patients opt to participate in this trial, they should talk to their doctors if they’re in pain, Price said.

Hollings offers numerous options for pain management, including Scrambler therapy, interventional options and medication.

“Just talk with your providers about the symptoms you’re having,” Price advised patients. “I think in some cases that there are opportunities that are not pursued because patients don’t speak up about the symptoms that they’re having.”